Graphic Novelty²


October 2022


Happy Halloween! My graphic novel horror pick this year is Delphine, which takes some classic fairy tales and subverts them.

Once upon a time…there was a college student (who remains unnamed throughout the story) who falls in love with the mysterious Delphine. The two had been on the cusp of a new romance when she was called back to her hometown to care for her ailing father. While she had promised to stay in touch, she doesn’t, thus sending this substitute Prince Charming on a quest to find her. This young man finds excuses to explain what is happening at first but soon enough realizes these disturbing experiences are not normal. There is symbolism that is recognizable from fairy tales- a poisoned apple, a coven of witches, a group of dwarves, a kindly woodsman and a big bad wolf- but it is all jumbled together in a manner that can not be understood. All the while, his lost love Delphine remains out of reach.

The art is done in duotone, with browns dominating, giving it a moody shadowy vibe. The paneling structure is straightforward, often four to six panels per page. Only the chapter breaks give you full-page illustrations with additional color. Most of the town inhabitants are gaunt, with extreme features that are caricatures of villains you would see in fairy tales. While at first, the illustrations seemed lackluster, they grew on me and matched the ominous tone of the narrative.

Twisted tales are popular and often overused storytelling devices, but in this case, it really works. Elements of fairy tales and horror are braided together well, and you will wonder what you would do if you were dropped into a macabre village with no escape!

Year Zero: Volume Two

I’m a sucker for zombie stories, so I picked up this new Year Zero series, which proved to be World War Z in graphic novel form.

In the first volume, the outbreak had just occurred and we were introduced to five different individuals all over the world. While I expected this second volume to pick up with those characters again, instead we meet four new ones a few months into this new apocalyptic world. There is the sadistic Columbian drug lord, a pregnant woman trapped in an Arizona big-box store, a Rwandan doctor consumed with guilt, and a Norweigan sea captain and her two grandchildren who are trying to elude pirates on their fishing boat. The fates of these new survivors were more at risk than in the first volume, which made it harder to connect with them, as some died and others had implied grim endings. We also get some world-building in the form of a few letters throughout this slim volume.

While Benjamin Percy remained the author, the artist and colorist changed to Juan Jose Ryp and Frank Martin. The art remains strong with great details, with coloring shifts for each location change, which helps somewhat with the constant back and forth. I do wish Percy spent more time with each character at a time, for often it shifted every two to three pages.

While I still remain interested in this series, I’m not up for volume three to introduce even more characters. I hope they start to connect the characters still left alive from these first two volumes, and begin to braid their stories together as they learn to cope with the new world order.

The Haunting of Hill House

I have heard great things about this novel, plus I loved author Shirley Jackson’s short story collection The Lottery and Other Stories, so I went in with high expectations for this story. Disappointingly, it didn’t deliver due to a lack of scares and characters that I didn’t connect with.

The premise is that a paranormal scientist, Dr. Montague, recruits people who have had paranormal events occur in their life come stay at the infamous Hill House that is rumored to be haunted. He reaches out to a dozen possibilities, but only two, timid Eleanor and bohemian Theodora, plus Luke who is the future heir of the house, commit to staying. A married pair of caretakers cook for them and tend the house, but leave by 6 pm as they refuse to stay in the remote location after dark. The original four start to experience strange phenomena, with Eleanor seeming to be the most susceptible. The supernatural happenings are always unseen, with implied threats, but not physical manifestations. The four veer between documenting these events and then acting as if they simply are on holiday at a country estate. Later, the doctor’s imperious wife, and family friend Arthur join them; but again it is Eleanor that the house seems to be focusing on.

Published in 1959, it is a product of its time, so the dated references both help it and hinder it. In many ways, I enjoyed this look into the late 1950s era, which relied on letters to reach out to people and no technology to help or distract them. However, the overnight guests were inexplicitly snippy and spiteful with one another with fragile Eleanor getting on my nerves, especially with her oft-repeated ” Journeys end in lover’s meetings” quote. But Jackson did describe the Gothic house well, with excellent world-building of the house’s dark past.

The conclusion came suddenly, with the Doctor insisting that Eleanor leave by herself with no assistance, and of course, this week-long experiment ends tragically. Since I can’t help but look at the narrative through a modern lens, there were so many other things this group could have done differently to have a better outcome. But then, it wouldn’t have become a classic horror story if it ended well, would it?

Ride On

Faith Erin Hicks proves once again why she is on my Top 5 Comic Authors list with this sweet coming-of-age story.

Blue-haired Victoria has recently switched horse stables, from the top-regarded stable in the area to a smaller one where she hopes for a less stressful riding experience. There she meets three other horse lovers, who extend a hand of friendship that she initially rejects. But they wear her down with their authenticity and mutual love for the tv show Beyond the Galaxy, which is an IRL homage to Star Trek: TNG. As a Trekkie, I loved how these young teens band together over their shared hobbies, with a funny scene of them dressing up in futuristic costumes at a local Renaissance Fair.

The spunky characters have Hick’s trademark look, with additional loving depictions of horses. This is a perfect book for middle school or very early high school students, for many of them are going through that bittersweet ritual of adolescence, outgrowing childhood friends and (hopefully) finding a new set of friends with similar interests. In this semi-autobiographical tale, Hicks shares her own love of horses and crafts a happy ending for Victoria. While not all friendship woes will wrap up as neatly as they did in this one, I believe teens can gain some positive insight into real friendship in this lovely tail (tale)!

Star Trek tribute!

Malibu Rising

Sometimes you read a book at just the right time in your life, and this was such a book. I loved this story of the Riva family- Nina, the responsible oldest child, Jay and Hud the inseparable surfing brothers, Kit the precocious youngest child, their naive and long-suffering mother June, and the famous cad of a father Mick. The story begins in Malibu in 1983 as the four siblings are preparing for their annual beach bash and then alternates chapters that go back to 1956 when June and Mick first met, eventually working their way forward chronologically until 1983 again. I was a few chapters in before I realized that Mick was in author Reid’s previous books- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (the third husband who is a Frank Sinatra-esque singer) and has a small cameo in Daisy Jones and The Six. This is when it became obvious to the reading public that Reid was linking all her recent books together in one universe.

The book visits all the siblings to learn more about their lives but Nina gets the lion’s share of the narrative, as she should because it is through her sheer tenacity that the siblings remained together after their mother’s death and Mick’s abandonment. Nina gives and gives, always thinking of others, and takes up so much responsibility when others shirk their duty. I adored how they all loved one another, and even when Jay and Hud have a blowout, they get through it and have each other’s backs. I was nervous throughout the decadent party that got out of hand, as I was invested in all their lives, and was rooting for them all to have the happy endings they deserved. As I also have a caretaker role in my extended family, Nina’s hard-won redemption was just what I needed to read. Reid really captures characters’ voices and capably juggles large casts. Her books have such an accurate sense of time and place, so I eagerly look forward to her next novel!

She-Hulk: Jen, Again

I picked up this bright graphic novel since I am a fan of author Rainbow Rowell, plus I’ve heard buzz about the new Disney+ tv show She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. This new series reboots Jen Waters in an appealing manner and introduces a rogues gallery of other Marvel characters.

The story establishes that Jen is back after some misadventures and wants to get back into her legal career, but a former adversary Titania has other ideas. Luckily Jen talks her way out of a bigger fight and hightails it to her new law office, where a fellow law colleague is begrudgingly giving her a chance to prove herself…but doesn’t want her to take on cases of other superheroes. This is a challenge because other heroes get themselves into a lot of legal scrapes, so there is a parade of cameos by other Marvel characters who traipse through the offices. A possible love interest appears, Jack of Hearts (never heard of him before), whom Jen thought was dead, so there’s that.

Roge Antonio and Luca Maresca are a good art team, and I didn’t notice a change in style between the early issues that Antonio illustrated and the later ones that Maresca did. The background coloring was muted, making Jen’s green skin and colorful outfits pop in comparison. I enjoyed the cover art by Jen Bartel and the variant art by other artists throughout the book. It skews young, making it a good gateway book for new readers, especially teens. All in all, this was a smashing fun book that sets up the She-Hulk for new adventures!

Daisy Jones & The Six

This was an amazing book to listen to on audio because the full voice cast brought Daisy and the band members to life! The book takes a journalistic approach to the story, told as if it were the oral history of this fictional band’s rise and fall, which was modeled on Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s. This proved to be the second of author Taylor Jenkins Reid’s quartet of books that intersect, but I read it first, and it proved to be my favorite of the four. A character in the previous The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo popped up as a small cameo in a party scene in the book, and would eventually take a more significant role in the next book.

The Six were brothers Billy (lead singer) and Graham (lead guitar), Warren (drummer), Karen (keyboards), and the second set of brothers Eddie (rhythm guitar) and Pete (bassist). They started their rise to prominence in the late 60s and early 70s, alongside the parallel journey of Daisy who started off as a rock groupie but became the It girl of that era as she began to song write and sing herself. When their manager shrewdly paired Daisy and Billy to sing a duet together to market them to the masses, their singing chemistry was evident, so Daisy and The Six began to tour together. This eventually led to Daisy officially joining the band and thus their acclaimed album Aurora began, and their behind-the-scenes turmoil is obviously based on the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album.

The drama between everyone made for a fantastic album but spilled over onto the stage and into their personal lives, with the band disbanding in 1979 among great strife.

Daisy and Billy’s relationship was fraught with sexual tension, but Billy was determined to maintain his hard-won sobriety (after out-of-control early days with the band) and his marriage to Camila. Daisy was charismatic and talented but very self-centered and drug-addicted, so I had a hard time connecting with her character as she is someone in real life I would stay far away from. On the other hand, the other couple in the band, Graham and Karen (modeled after Christine McVie) were engaging together and had a realistic but heartbreaking end to their relationship. There were rivalries within the band, especially between Billy and Eddie, but also a disconnect with Pete, whose contribution to the interviews made me smile. I was very pleased that female friendships were an important part of the narrative, with Daisy and fellow singer Simone and then Karen and Camila. While most of their conversations would not pass the Bechdel test, their friendships felt authentic and the book was better for the representation. There was a little surprise in the end as to who was doing the interviewing, but there was a misstep at the very end with a message that felt very much like the disliked finale of How I Met Your Mother. Overall, this was a great book that gave a fictionalized but very real look at rock and roll in the 70s. Recommended!

Star Trek Strange New Worlds: Season One

I adore Strange New Worlds! While I have been disappointed with recent Star Trek shows (I hate Discovery and Picard was only been ok) this newest series hit it out of the park. I shared in a previous post that I feel the episodic storytelling serves it well- while of course there is continuity over the episodes, the self-contained episodes have been working to SNW‘s advantage.

Strange New Worlds

The first episode lays down some background for Captain Pike, establishing his knowledge of what he knows will befall him, and his affable nature as the first captain of the USS Enterprise. When his second-in-command, Una goes missing on a planet during a first-contact mission, Pike needs to work around Starfleet rules when he realizes the planet’s government has recreated some technology and possibly will use it as a weapon. This protocol breach results in the Prime Directive.

Children of the Comet

A comet is headed towards an inhabited planet, and when trying to course correct it, the Enterprise is blocked by a group of zealots who tie the comet’s journey into religious significance. Of course, the crew figures out how to modify its trajectory, and realizes that the comet is some sort of living entity. We have some lighter moments of seeing Pike host crew dinners in his personal quarters and viewers get to know some background on Cadet Uhura and find out the pilot Ortega is quite the jokester.

Ghosts of Illyria

A colony of Illyrians, who have been kicked out of the Federation due to genetic engineering, have disappeared and the Enterprise crew tries to find them. We learn a secret about Una in this episode, plus that the widowed Dr. M’Benga has been keeping his terminally sick daughter in stasis while he tries to find a cure for her.

Memento Mori

While bringing an air filter to a space colony, the Enterprise crew finds out that many of the colonists are dead due to a Gorn attack. Security chief La’an Noonien-Singh recognizes the threat since she is a childhood survivor of a Gorn massacre. (Aside- In TOS Kirk fought off a Gorn in a ridiculous wrestling match, and the actor in a reptile suit was comical looking, even by 1960s standards).

Spock Amok

The crew is given shore leave, and Spock plans to reconnect with his fiancee T’Pring, but is called away for a mission. There is some levity, with Spock and T’Pring accidentally changing minds for a time, and the serious Una and La’an trying to understand a bingo game that new crew members play. Spock and T’Pring show some serious chemistry (to Nurse Chapel’s disappointment), so I wonder how they will handle the relationship in SNW, as in TOS the engagement ends.

Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach

This was a heartbreaking episode, as the crew meet a child who is doomed to be a sacrifice so his people can live in paradise. Pike is horrified that the child will endure years of pain, and tries to thwart the ceremony to no avail.

The Serene Squall

A space pirate captain fools the Enterprise crew for awhile, but then reveals her true motive- she demands her lover, who is being held by the Vulcan government be released. It is revealed in the last moments that the prisoner is Sybok, Spock’s half-brother, who was infamously in the movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (directed poorly by William Shatner). This movie has been derided for years, but hey, SNW is leaning into it.

The Elysian Kingdom

I loved this fun high fantasy episode! When surveying a nebula, the crew is knocked out and wake up dressed as fairytale characters. Only Chief Engineer Hemmer, who is a telepath, realizes that the nebula has a consciousness and is trying to entertain the doctor’s daughter. Later the doctor is given a heartbreaking decision, as the nebula can cure his daughter but she will have to remain behind. But the nebula is kind and will give her a good life, and the doctor can come back and visit her in the future. You can tell the actors had fun with these roles- they got to act against type and go full-out camp. See the below YouTube video for a fun preview of the episode.

All Those Who Wander

The Gorn are back! The crew beams to an ice planet to try to save the survivors there, but one of the main characters of this season becomes infected and they bravely sacrifice themselves so others can live. This death took me by surprise, and I was saddened to realize this character won’t be in S2.

A Quality of Mercy

Pike’s vision of his future death tie into this episode, as Pike thinks if he changes a few choices he can prevent his death, but a future Pike comes back to warn him that those changes set off an even worse chain of events. Despite this sobering news, Pike remains optimistic as he knows his sacrifice will be for the greater good. We also are given a surprise cameo of the future Captain Kirk played by Paul Wesley (famous for his role Stefen in The Vampire Diaries) and I like the casting. But in the last minute, a cliffhanger is established when the Federation shows up to arrest a member of Pike’s crew.

I really believe the producers and writers of Star Trek really took fans’ concerns to heart in this new series. The tone is much lighter, similar to the iconic original series that started this entire franchise. While they still tackle big issues, we aren’t burdened with overly long and dark story arcs. I like all the main roles, and I personally find Pike incredibly dreamy. SNW is everything I hoped it would be, and I speak for many when I say that this series is exactly what the franchise needed. In the meantime- live long and prosper!

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